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The Political Power of Laughter

The “Jon Stewart of Egypt” Comes to the Clarice

By Liam Farrell

Youssef1

YousefIn another age, an Egyptian cardiac surgeon would hardly have a chance to become a powerful political satirist. But thanks to the Internet and the energy of the Arab Spring, Bassem Youssef is one of the most powerful advocates for free speech in the world.

Youssef, whose news satire show “Al Bernameg” (“The Program”) was watched by 30 million viewers in the Middle East, will come to the Clarice Performing Arts Center on Sept. 20 and 21 to discuss democracy and how comedy can be a force for change. The second night will be presented in Arabic.

“He’s an amazing person,” says Martin Wollesen, executive director of The Clarice. “It’s important now more than ever to bring in voices to do some reflection.”

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As protests enveloped the Arab world in 2011, Youssef began posting satirical videos to YouTube and eventually landed his own TV series. Commonly compared to Jon Stewart, Youssef poked fun at the extravagances of the ruling elite and confronted their policies and pronouncements. He was so successful, in fact, that mounting concerns about safety and government interference led him to cancel “Al Bernameg” in 2014.

Youssef recently turned his sardonic gaze to American politics in the series “Democracy Handbook” on the Fusion network. 

In addition to performances at The Clarice, he will meet with UMD journalism students. “We as a nation continue to struggle with democracy,” Wollesen says. “Part of being at a university is being able to engage in debate and question.”

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